The Boy With White Feathers

The Boy With White Feathers

A Story by Charles Konsor
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Sam, deferred from fighting in WWII, battles his own guilt while pining over his long time love.

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Charlie Hamilton’s star was changed from blue to gold on April 1st, 1945.  Like every other time those damn stars changed, we were expected to walk passed his house in silence.  And it’s not that I hated Charlie Hamilton.  He was a c**t, but still, I didn’t hate him.  I just didn’t notice the gold star, that’s why I didn’t shut up. 

See, the thing is I can’t walk unless my hands are in my pocket.  I mean, I can walk"it’s not like my hands are some how connected to my legs"but it doesn’t feel right walking with my hand’s just hanging at my side.  They get cold and they swing funny and I always feel odd, so I have to walk with my hands in my pocket.

I have a little trouble when I walk to work because I have to carry my lunch pail, but it’s not as bad as you think.  It seems like holding something in my hand kind of makes it feel occupied so it doesn’t notice that it’s not in my pocket.  Also, I switch hands every once and a while so one hand doesn’t get colder than the other.  Then, when the new hand hold’s the pail, I rub my thumb against the handle, you know, to make it feel more occupied, and so it’s not too awkward walking to work. 

Anyway, that day"the day I’m writing about I mean"that day I was thinking about the pocket thing for some reason and I was real deep in thought about it and I was talking to myself and had my head down so that’s why I didn’t see the gold star in Charlie’s window.  That’s why I didn’t shut up when I walked passed house.

“Sad about Charlie, ehh,” Mr. Richardson said to me.  He was the mailman and he wouldn’t have talked to me normally"I don’t think he liked me"but I think he liked me talking to myself even less, especially because I was doing it front of Charlie’s house, and so that’s why he was talking to me.

“What?”

“Charlie,” he said, nodding toward the window where a gold star had been stitched over the blue one.  “Took a grenade in Germany.  Near some big river or something.”

I didn’t feel like talking about Charlie.  I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t want to.  Luckily I was used to ignoring Mr. Richardson"or at least him people like him"so I said “Right” and tried to walk passed him, but he sort of stepped in front of my path.

“Right?  What do you mean right?”

“Nothing,” I said.  “Just . . . I understand.”

“Do you?” he asked.

“Well . . . I just mean that I understand what you’re saying.”

“Do you?” he said again.  He said it all sarcastic like, like I didn’t understand, but I did.  I understood why Charlie’s star was gold, but that’s not what Mr. Richardson meant when he said it, and so I didn’t say anything else.  “Well . . . good for you Sam.”

My thumb started rubbing against the handle of my lunch pail.  Mr. Richardson kept staring at me, but I still didn’t say anything"I’d found it was best not to say anything"and after awhile I just nodded to him and he let me walk passed him.

 

I had to pass by 168 of those ugly stars every single day: eighty four on my way to work, eight four on my way back.  They’d been hanging in the windows for three years now and the color had started to fade on a lot of them so they were really ugly.  And they looked kind of out of place too, just like they didn’t belong.  I mean, I understand the stars, I understand why they’re there and all, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get sick of them, that doesn’t mean they weren’t ugly.

 

 

But of course everyone else pretended they were pretty.  They all looked at them everyday and said they prayed they wouldn’t change.  Twenty two were gold . . . well, I guess 23 with Charlie Hamilton.

 

 

I felt bad for him, I really did, but I didn’t feel I should have to be quiet when I walked passed his house.  And I’m not just saying that because I was accidentally talking to myself and want to justify it or anything.  See with walking passed these 84 stars everyday I’d come to the conclusion that all that silent reverie and whatever else was all bullshit.  If I died tomorrow I can guarantee you no one would even lower their voice when they walked passed my house, let alone go completely silent.  And silence is a dumb way of respect anyway. 

Sometimes I can hear the mother’s crying"I probably would have been able to hear Mrs. Hamilton if it wasn’t for that yapping mailman.  What kind of respect is that then?  They already have a gold star which tells the whole world their son is dead, why would they want even more attention, and why would they want people to hear them cry?  It don’t make no sense. 

That’s why I wasn’t silent.  Well . . . I usually was silent, but not because I needed to be.  Usually it was just because I wasn’t saying anything . . . not even talking to myself.  You shouldn’t think I talk to myself a lot, because I don’t. 

 

Mrs. Knight lived on the corner of Medbury and Sheridan.  She had a son, but she also had a blue star in her window, and I think she missed him.  Well, of course she missed him, but I mean really missed him which is why she was always giving me cookies and stuff.

 

 

Everyday on my way to work she’d be sitting on her porch and when she saw me coming she’d rush out with a plate in her hands.  Betty bars some days, peanut butter cookies as well, and chocolate chip of course. 

 

 

It was kind of weird because sugar was rationed so either she was getting some extra from some place or she was using it all for these cookies, which I can’t really understand.  I didn’t know her very well and I’d barely ever talked to her before the war, but after her son went away she started talking to me and making me the cookies.

“Oatmeal raisin today, Sam,” she said as she scuttled towards me.  She was still wearing her apron and had her hair in a hair net and everything.  She wore old leggings which were torn"it was hard for women to get new ones they said.  Like when the drug store would get new ones all the girls would rush over and try to buy some, which is stupid because I don’t even think leggings make women look good. 

Anyway, what I mean to say is that Mrs. Knight was just like you imagine a nice old woman to be, what with making the candies and dressing like she did, her hair was even starting to go gray.  And she was always trying to make me happy, which was weird because no one ever did that for me before, I mean not without me paying them, or without them wanting something I had or some reason like that.

“Your favorite aren’t they?” she said.  She was out of breath when she reached me, but she had a big smile on her face which made her wrinkles even more wrinkly.

“Well . . . not really, no . . .” I said.  I wasn’t trying to be mean, it was just the truth.  See I think truth is more important than making people feel good which you may have noticed already.  “I mean I like them just fine, Mrs. Knight, but my favorite are peanut butter.”

“Oh, of course,” she said, still smiling.  “How could I have forgotten?  You always did love anything with peanut butter . . . still, you’ll need something sweet to eat while you’re at work.  Something to keep you strong while you’re working with all those big machines.”

It might sound like she was being flirty with me, but she wasn’t.  And even if she was, I wouldn’t have flirted back because, like I said, she looks like an old woman.

“Thank you kindly, Mrs. Knight,” I said.  I always called her Mrs. just in case she was being flirty so she’d know I didn’t think of her that way, but as I said, I really don’t think she was being flirty.

“So, is there anything new at the plant these days?” she asked.

“Not that I know of.”   

“No?  I’d heard they might hire some more women, especially in your department,” she said, but then she acted all modest, “but of course I probably heard wrong.  You know me, always getting taken by whatever gossip I hear.”

“Maybe they’re hiring some more women,” I said.  She was a gossip, but I didn’t have to say it.  Being truthful didn’t mean you had to hurt people’s feelings just for no reason.  “I can’t imagine the women would be able to do much good in my department though, what with all the heavy equipment.”

“Oh, what would we do with out strong boys like you?  I’ll tell you, we’d do nothing, and Hitler would be marching on the capital by fall.”

That wasn’t true, but I let her believe it.  I think she really wanted to believe it"not the bit about Hitler coming, but the other bit, about people like me protecting her.

“Oh, but Sam,” she said, stepping in front of me now.  She put her hand up by my cheek.  “You have to remember to be careful though Sam,” she said.  “Because like I said, we’d be lost without you.”

“I’ll be careful Mrs. Knight.”

“You’ll promise me?  You’ve got to promise me you’ll be safe Sam,” she said.  Her hand was brushing against my cheek now, and sort of touching my hair.  I was used to it, but it still felt weird, and so I quickly promised to stay safe.  She dropped her hands from my face, then she swallowed hard, and watched me walk down the street with her hands clasped near hear chest.

Now, I’ve got to say again that she wasn’t attracted to me or anything"it wasn’t like that at all.  What it was like was . . . well, like she needed me.  Not sexually, but . . . motherly.  She needed to be good to someone and care about someone and maybe it was because her son was gone, maybe she just thought I needed someone to be good to me, but whatever it was, she always acted like that to me.  And I let her do it because I knew she needed it and, to be honest, I kind of liked it.

But I was at the corner of Medbury and Frontenac and so I have to stop talking about Mrs. Knight.

See, there was a brick house on the corner there.  On the north side of the house there were a pile of bricks and a half finished brick room meant to be an addition to the house.

A girl named Mary lived there. 

She lived alone . . . and there was a blue star hanging in her window, star number 73.

 

I should probably tell you that there were no stars in my window . . . but that’s all you need to know.

 

 

 

 

 

We didn’t get women at the Packard plant until ’45, at least not in my department.  To be honest, it may have been better if they’d never come at all.  I mean, I don’t have anything against women or anything, it’s just . . . it’s like they’re different than men and so it didn’t work like it did before and I don’t think they helped us make any more engines or anything. 

 

Of course, without the women I’d never been able to talk to Mary . . . but still, most of the women were worthless.  They had to make the machines special so they could operate them, and though everyone talked about how patriotic they were"all that Rosie the Riveter s**t"the truth is most were just in it for the money.  Just like that damned Rosie.

 

 

“Hi,” she said.  “I know I don’t have a penis, but I can work hard all the same.”

She had a mouth like that, and she would just say things out of the blue.  It was annoying and distracting.  I’d only known her a minute and I already knew I’d hate her, even before she told me her name was Rosie. 

“I’m Rosie.”

“Rosie,” I said, cause of course it was a little odd that she was actually named Rosie.  Ironic really.

“I can do it,” she said, flexing her arm. 

She was fat.  Well, not fat, but not skinny.  She had that kind of hips fat, wide hips and what not, and you know it’s just a matter of time before the rest of her body fills out the same way.  Of course she might have been that way already, but I couldn’t tell because she had overalls on.  Can you believe that? F*****g overalls. 

Anyway, when she flexed, it was just a flabby arm, not at all like Rosie the Riveter and so I didn’t say anything to her"both because I didn’t want to be mean, and because I didn’t want to talk to her any more"but she kept on talking anyway.

“No, I don’t really care about the war though.  I just wanted the money”

“OK.”

See, all about the money.

“And of course I wanted to get away from my mom and sisters,” she said.  “They’re always worrying over my brother"he’s in the 101st.  Belgium or someplace like that.  Or at least he was in Belgium a while ago.  I’m not sure if . . .”

I should tell more about work because I just realized you might not know what I was doing there.  ‘There’ is the Packard Plant on E Grand Boulevard and what I did was make Merlin engines for planes.

The Merlin was easy enough to put together, or at least my bit was.  It had this two stage impeller, so two stages on the same shaft and . . . really, you probably wouldn’t be able to understand it, so I won’t go on about it.  God knows Rosie never really did figure it out. 

Mr. Cleever"he’s the boss there"he probably would have yelled at us  for not being fast enough, but I think he likes me and, as I’ve said, I’m never late and I’ve never missed a day of work.  Never, not once. 

Really, it’s because of me that the P-51’s and P-40’s were even possible.  Without me those ‘fly boys’ would be nothing more than corpses at the bottom of the channel, but then I suppose there’d just be more of those damn stars.

Anyway, what I meant to say is I started ignoring Rosie and working on the engine right about the time she started talking about her brother, but she still kept right on talking.  She worked a bit, but most of her work seemed meant to look like work rather than be work, if you know what I mean.  Most of the time she was just looking around, or smoking, but I’ll get to that later.

“I thought there’d be more men here,” she said when she had finished talking about her brother.

“More than half of them are men,” I said without looking up.

“Yeah, but they’re all old men.  Or cripples like that one legged fellow over there.”

She was pointing at Johnson, a man who’d been sent home after a bomb took his leg off.  He was kind of arrogant.  Not in that cocky way, but in that modest way, like he never talked about the war and so everyone thought him all that much braver and s**t.  Still, he had given me a cigarette the other day when my ration ran out so I sort of owed him some.  That’s why I kept on ignoring Rosie.

“You’re not old though.”

I could have said, ‘Yeah, you’re right, I’m not.  You must be a genius,’ or something like that, but as I said, I was ignoring her.

“I just wish more men could have been as lucky as you.”

“Lucky,” I said with a laugh, that kind of ‘HA’ laugh thing, but I didn’t say more because of the ignoring thing.  I didn’t want to talk about it either, and for some reason I was thinking about my lunch.

“Yeah, well, this isn’t exactly skilled labor, is it,” she said.  She didn’t lower her voice or anything, she just said it.  “I mean if I can do it"”

“If you can do it, then maybe you should stop talking to me and start doing it.”

It shut her up for a minute.  She fiddled around with the impeller, following the diagram Mr. Cleever had given her.  It was a piss poor job and the next man on the line would have to fix it, but at least she wasn’t talking.  But then she started talking again.

“I don’t think you’re a coward or anything . . . and I do think you’re lucky . . .”

The whistle hadn’t sounded for lunch, but f**k it, I was hungry.

“No, I just mean . . . I think you’re handsome and I’m glad"”

I turned around and glared at her.

“Sam, I didn’t mean"”

“Yeah, well f**k you,” I said and then I went and got my lunch pail.

I’m not sure why I said that to her.  I was just mad off or something.  She wouldn’t stop talking and sometimes I get confused about what people are trying to say . . . but still . . . f**k her.

 

Between buildings 15 and 16"where I work"there’s a little stretch of concrete.  It’s filled up with old crates and useless pieces of metal, but there’s also a few weeds which have managed to grow up through the cracks in the concrete.  Now I don’t know much about plants or anything, but some of the weeds have little yellow or purple flowers.  They come out in the spring, which is why I’m telling you this"because spring was just beginning.  Anyway, what I mean to say is that everyday after lunch I go out there for a few minutes.

 

 

No one else goes there.  I’m not sure they even know it’s there, which is fine by me.  I like being alone.  Not all the time of course, but some of the time.  Especially after lunch.

 

 

Anyway, that day"the day the women started working in building 16"I went out there as I always did.  The flowers hadn’t bloomed yet, but I knelt down and looked at the small plant anyway.  There were little buds on it, which I suppose would turn into flowers soon. 

Also, you should know that it’s loud out there.  The noise from both buildings echoes along the narrow concrete, which is why I didn’t hear the noise right away. 

I mean I thought I heard something.  You know like when you suddenly feel like someone said your name a few seconds ago, but your mind only recognized it now, and you’re not sure if it was real or if maybe your mind is just all messed up.  It was like that, only no one had said my name.  It was just a shuffling of feet I heard, and I turned around, and there was Mary.

“Mary,” I said right away.  I didn’t mean to be so blunt, just saying her name"I know that sounds stupid and makes me sound shocked and what not, and I was a little"but anyway, I said ‘Mary’ and she smiled.  It wasn’t a big smile though, just a pleasant one meant to say ‘yes, it’s me.’

“Mary Stahl,” I said, which was stupid, but that’s what I said, and she said:

“Mary Reed now actually.”

“Right . . . of course . . .” I said.  “. . . and have you been out here long?”  I knew she had, or at least longer than me"I would have seen her coming"but she lied.

“No.”

“Right . . . well, it’s a nice little place, isn’t it?”

“Yes . . . yes I suppose it is,” she said.  She was looking at the ground and shuffling her feet a little and she had one of the weeds in her hand and her fingers were sort of peeling the leaves apart.

“And how is it?”

“What?”

“How is your work?  I mean so far, how’s it going?”

“Fine . . . pretty easy when you get the hang of it.”

“Right,” I said. 

She talks like this to me a lot.  She just says short answers, and not real deep ones either.  She didn’t always talk to me like that, but she does now.  And she doesn’t talk to everyone like that, but she talks to me like that.  I don’t really like it.  It makes me nervous and so I talk like I’m talking right now.

“I’ve never seen anyone else out here . . .” I said, “. . . not that I can remember anyway.”

“No?”

“No,” I said.  “But like minds, ehh . . . I mean, they think alike . . . that’s what I meant by the ‘like minds’ bit.”

She smiled again, the same sort of smile as before.  This time, though, she wasn’t saying ‘yes, it’s me’, she was saying, ‘yes, I suppose so’.

“These flowers here,” I said, pointing down to the little weed.  “They should bloom"”

“Look, I better get back to work Sam,” she said.  She crossed her arms in front of her as she said it, then she smiled again"this one came and went too quickly for me to see what she meant by it"and she went back into the plant. 

For a few seconds I just stood frozen"I was still pointing at the flower and I probably looked stupid, but I didn’t really care.  I never much care about what people think when they look at me.  After those few seconds, though, I walked over to one of the building 16 windows.  They had some kind of paint or frost type thing on them, so you couldn’t see through, but there was a little bit of glass broken off in the bottom corner and so I looked through there.

I watched Mary as she walked back to her station.  She was wearing a skirt"unlike Rosie with her f*****g overalls"and it sort of swayed as she moved.  Swayed really slowly, which I think I really like.  I tried to see her face, to see how it looked, but her back was too me as she walked, so anyway . . . I don’t know how she looked.

 

North of Gratiot Avenue, just passed Maxwell, there used to be a little space of trees.  It’s all gone now, turned to houses, but when I was a kid, it seemed like a forest.  During the summer, when it was warm enough, I’d always eat my lunch in that forest"you don’t need to know why I didn’t eat at home. 

 

 

Anyway, one day when I was about 6 (I’m 23 now, or I was then, when the time you’re reading about was the now) I was out there in the forest eating my lunch.  One of the biggest trees had fallen down in a storm and I’d always climb up on to it and eat there.  It made me feel taller and I could see more of the forest, which is how I saw the little blonde girl running into the woods.

 

 

Normally I would have been angry because I didn’t like other people being in my forest, but just after she ran in, I saw a dog running after her.  It seemed like a huge dog then, it probably wasn’t so big, but anyway, she was screaming and seemed really scared and I was scared too"mostly because I was afraid the dog would mess up my forest. 

I jumped down from my tree and grabbed my lunch pail and I ran towards the girl.  She saw me coming and I think she though I was going to hit her because she got all scared and ducked under a bush, but I didn’t hit her.  I ran passed her and at the dog. 

I swung my lunch pail at it and it stopped.  It was still growing and barking and it tried to bite me a bunch of times, but after a few minutes it gave up and went chasing after a rabbit. 

That’s how I met Mary. 

She was still scared when I found her under the bush, but when I said I’d chased the dog away she crawled out.  She had scratches on her arm from the bush and her head was bleeding"not badly, but if she could have seen it, she probably would have screamed again. 

Anyway, she was still shaking and crying a little bit because, you know, she was a little girl and so I put my hand on her shoulder"it seemed like something I was supposed to do"and then I kissed her on the forehead.

Her hair was soft like a little girl’s hair usually is, but it stayed that soft"even when the color became almost brown, her hair was still soft.  And I probably could have kissed her on the lips, but I didn’t, which I was always quite proud of.  I don’t know why, but I was.  And I didn’t kiss her again, even though we started spending all our time together.

For 15 years we became inseparable and I never kissed her again because I didn’t need to.  It felt deeper than that, and I thought kissing might make it different or something.  I wanted to of course, but I didn’t, which I’ve always been quite proud of as well.

 

Mary was working at the end of the line.  She was pretty so they put her where visiting officers and business men could see her.  I think all she did was polish off the engine, make it look pretty, but the way it looked to them was that she’d done it all and had just finished.  I didn’t mind.  She was good at being pretty so that’s what she did.  I was good at two stage impellers so that’s what I did. 

 

 

On one of her first days she met some famous lady, the president’s wife or something, I don’t know.  She was tall, but ugly tall, and everyone followed her around and took pictures of her and Mary and other pretty girls, all of them standing around the engine.  Like I said, though, I don’t know exactly who the tall lady was.  It’s like Mr. Cleever tells me, ‘we got no time for politics, all we got time for is work’.

 

 

Anyway, her station was a long ways from mine, but it was close to the break room, and so whenever I had my lunch, I could look out the door and see her.  I wasn’t creepy about looking at her or anything, I’m not like that, but I just liked watching her. 

She had this big face.  Not like big head big, or ugly big, but like just bigger so it could hold all the beauty there"her nose, and her eyes, and her cheek bones.  I think it was those cheeks that made her face look so big.  It also made her look a little too skinny, like one of those French women they show in the papers, always kissing the soldiers. 

When I first realized that"the thing about the French women and Mary looking alike"it kind of bugged me.  I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t want her to be a French woman.  After a while, though, it kind of excited me.  In fact, I started thinking of her as my French girl, and I didn’t mind that she was so skinny because, as I said, we were kids together, and that counted for more than looks.  Like it was somehow more important, deeper and all that.  That’s what we had, and it was strange, and not like those Hollywood movies or anything, but I knew it would work out in the end, which is why I watched her while I ate my lunch.

And I was watching her today (or the today that was the today in the story I’m telling).  Only Rosie was in the break room with me.  She was smoking"she smoked a lot"which kind of . . . actually, I should tell you about the smoking. 

Because of the war"I assume you know a war’s going on"cigarettes were rationed, which was s**t.  All the good cigarettes got sent to the soldiers, and the rest of us got one pack a week, which was fine by me except that we didn’t get to choose our packs.  They’d put all the cigarettes in a bucket and put a cloth over it and we’d have to stick our hand in and pick out a pack and then smoke whatever we got.

Anyway, about Rosie: I’d sort of mellowed on her lately"meaning I didn’t hate her as much as I did before.  All of the other girls at the plant stayed in groups, always crowding together, always talking to each other, never talking to the men, but Rosie would talk to the men, which is why I liked her more now.  It made her seem less pretentious.

Anyway, she’d gotten a pack of Cobbs"which are s**t cigarettes"so when she asked me for a cigarette, I gave her one.  So that’s why Rosie was in the break room while I was watching Mary polish another engine.

She really did put a lot of work into it.  She’d lean over the engine and scrub really hard with a cloth.  She’d also put some kind of oil or grease on certain parts of the engine which stained her fingers black"she had long, thin fingers and she’d played piano as a girl. 

With all that working, her hair would inevitably slip out of the bandana which had been holding it up.  Then she’d have to wipe the loose strand away and the grease would get on her hair, turning it from a soft blonde to a mucky black. 

Still, she didn’t complain about it, and didn’t stop to go clean her hair out like some of the other girls would do, and I really respected her for that.  And that’s what I was thinking"that I respected her a lot"when Rosie said suddenly:

“You wanna f**k?”

I think I must not have heard her at first.  All I really heard was f**k and so I let out a little ‘HA’ sort of laugh and said, “Factory work’s turned your mouth foul already, has it?”

She didn’t say anything back, and maybe it was that silence which made me turn around and look at her.

She was sitting real low in her chair, with one of her feet resting on the next chair so that her knee was bent in the air.  She held her cigarette right near her cheek so the smoke drifted around her head, and she said again, “So . . . do you wanna?”

I looked at her crotch.  I didn’t mean to, but my eyes just went there.  Her legs were slightly apart, what with her one leg being bent up, and my eyes just darted there, but only for a second"not even long enough for me to think about why I was looking there"and then I looked back at her face.

She took a drag of her cigarette, all seductive like.  Like Ingrid Bergman or Marlene Dietrich or something.  I’m sure I must not have looked that smooth, but I didn’t care.  I wasn’t thinking about that, and like I said, I don’t very much care what other people think about me.  Anyway, after a few seconds I just got up, grabbed my lunch pail, and left the break room.

 

I didn’t think much of that Reed fellow, the one who married Mary.  I don’t even remember his face very well.  It was rugged I’m sure, like all those soldiers they have in the paper.  It was probably handsome too.  I suppose he’d have to be to win over Mary.  Not that she’s obsessed with looks, but she’s so pretty, and a pretty girl and ugly guy just don’t go together, it looks odd, unnatural.  Like how the stars look out of place in the windows.

 

 

I’m OK to look at.  I mean I’m no John Wayne or anything, but alright all the same.  And I know me and Mary would go well together.  Hell, we’ve been at each other’s side for nearly twenty years and no ones ever said we looked odd together.  They just say how pretty she is, which is true, which I’ve probably already told you about.

 

 

Anyway, it wasn’t right how Reed just came in and took her from me.  I mean, not that she was mine or anything, but . . . but he’s just not right for her.  His name’s Wesley first of all, which is just pretentious and arrogant.  And he’s that typical sort of manly man who builds things and drinks whiskey and wants to raise a family.

See, there’s a reason I mentioned Mary’s house before.  The pile of bricks, the ones sitting by the side of her house, they’re meant to build a nursery for her first child.  She’s not pregnant"you need to know that, because I wouldn’t be like I am towards her if she was pregnant, and not because I don’t like kids, but because . . . you know . . . there are some things you shouldn’t get in the way of. 

So she’s not pregnant, but she plans to be as soon as Wesley comes home from the war.  He started building the nursery a few years ago, but he only got half way done before he left so the rest is just sitting there waiting for him to come back. 

I’ve always been kind of happy about it though.  I mean I’m happy that he didn’t finish it.  It’s almost like when he does finish it, he has Mary for sure because, like I said, there’s some things you shouldn’t get in the way of.

 

I didn’t look at the stump.  I made sure I didn’t look at it.  And I didn’t talk about it either because I didn’t want him to feel bad about it.  Some people weren’t so considerate though.  Mrs. Knight didn’t bother avoiding the arm when she hugged him.  I could see him wince in pain when her hand brushed against it, but he didn’t say anything to her.  He just let her hug him and he even kind of returned the hug with his one good arm"which I’m sure just reminded him of how he only had one good arm.

 

 

The little Hamilton boy was even worse.

 

 

“Where’s the rest of your arm?” he asked, staring right at the stump.

“A fox hole in Belgium,” Kevin said.  He wasn’t sarcastic or bitter or anything either, just honest, which is what I always liked about Kevin.  “If the wolves haven’t eaten it yet I mean.”

“You were in Belgium?” the Hamilton kid said.

“Belgium, Holland, and France,” he said.

“Yeah, and he’s tired from it all, so you should leave him alone now,” I said and started leading Kevin on down the sidewalk, but the kid caught up to us right away.

“I’m a soldier too,” he said.

“Are you?”

“Yeah . . . well, I’m a Junior Commando, which is like a kid soldier,” Hamilton said.

The Junior Commando’s were not soldiers.  They walked around and hassled people into giving them paper and metal and rubber and stuff.  Mostly, though, they were just annoying.  Especially because they had these little arm bands and helmets and walked around with this swagger"which come to think of it might be just like soldiers after all.

“So you got any metal?” he asked.  He kept looking at Kevin’s stump.  Not like staring, but every few seconds he’d glance at it.

“No, now buzz off,” I said and started leading Kevin away.

“Hold on,” Kevin said.  “Why do you want metal?”

“Not just metal.  Rubber or paper will do.”

“And what do you do with it then?”

“Give it to the Junior Commando leader,” he said.

“Yes, but then what?” Kevin asked.  He was real patient like that, especially after he came home.  I think most of that, though, was just because he wasn’t used to dealing with these little brats and so didn’t know how annoying they were yet.

“They make tanks and planes and stuff out of it and send it over to the soldiers,” the kid said.  “I’m selling war bonds too.  Well . . . not really selling, but if you give me some quarters I can buy stamps at school and when I get enough stamps I’ll get a war bond.”

“Well, in that case,” Kevin said.  He was going to reach into his pocket, but he tried to do it with his left hand"which, of course, wasn’t there any more.  I didn’t say anything about it, and he didn’t look too embarrassed.  He just reached over with his right hand and pulled out two quarters.

“Kevin, you don’t really have to"”

“No, it’s fine,” he said to me.  “In fact . . . perhaps this will help as well.”  He pulled a pocket watch out of his coat pocket and handed it to the boy.  “For the metal drive.”

“Thanks Mr. . . .”

“Connelly,” Kevin said.  “Kevin Connelly.”

“Well, thank you Mr. Connelly,” the Hamilton boy said and then ran off to harass someone else.

“You didn’t have to"”

“I know,” Kevin said.  “But the boy’s brother just died . . . it’s good he has something he cares about.”

 

Kevin came home on April 22nd.  No one told me he was coming, just like no one told me he was going.  One day he was just gone, sent off across the ocean, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye.  What kind of cold hearted s**t is that? 

 

 

I think his mom didn’t like me much.  I think that’s why no one told me he was going . . . or coming back.  She didn’t have any reason to hate me, but since we were kids she always seemed to.  Not hate I guess, but she just didn’t like me much.  Kevin always stayed my friend though, ever since grade school, which I liked.  I liked that he was my friend, even though his mom didn’t like me.

 

 

“Good old Medbury street,” Kevin said as we walked along the sidewalk.

“Good old Medbury,” I repeated.

We were walking slower than I normally walked.  Kind of like when people in the movies walk around with their family on a nice summer day"like taking a stroll.  Yeah, a stroll, that’s exactly what it was like.

“You’re a lucky man, Sam,” he said.

“Lucky? Ha,” I said with that kind of gawf thing.  I’m not sure if ‘gawf’ is the right word, but the way it sounds, it sort of seems like the right word.  “What with the rationing.  You know we can’t get any meat on Tuesdays . . . and we can’t go to the bank on Thursday afternoons because they spend all afternoon counting war bonds.  And working with women . . .”

“Ahh, so it’s not all bad.” Kevin said with a grin.

“You haven’t seen the women,” I said and he laughed.

“No, I suppose I haven’t,” he said.  “But I still envy you Sam . . . you didn’t have to see your friends die.  You didn’t have kill other people’s friends.” 

He was talking quite normal, casual like, the way you talk on a stroll, which didn’t seem like the right way to talk.  It was the wrong tone for the conversation.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” he said.  “I’m glad I went.  I’m glad I got to serve with other great men . . . I’m glad I knew them . . . It’s just hard when you lose them.”

I respected Kevin.  Not because he was a soldier, but because I just respected him, so I didn’t say anything about how most soldiers seemed cocky and what not. 

“. . . and I suppose it’d be nice to have my arm back,” he said with a smile.  I didn’t smile, though, because I didn’t think it was something he should joke about.  When he saw that I wasn’t smiling, his smile kind of faded away and he looked down the street and said again, “Good old Medbury.”

 

I’ll admit that sometimes I’m jealous of soldiers.  I’m jealous they got to go to Europe and the Pacific and Africa.  See, I saw this newspaper once.  I try to avoid newspapers most of the time"like Mr. Cleever says, we don’t have time for politics"but one time I was walking along Harper Street and I saw an old newspaper blowing by. 

 

 

It had a picture in it of some soldiers standing triumphant like in some European town.  They had their guns in one hand, a cigar in the other, and the city was all broken apart behind them.  There was this one soldier standing in the distance though.  You couldn’t see his face, just his back, but he was looking at this old building.  The roof was blown away, but it was still a nice looking building.  It was old, but that kind of grand old, like St. Albertus or something. 

 

 

Anyway, that’s what I imagine I’d of been like if I was there.  The other soldiers would be drinking and looting and posing for the camera, but I’d be looking at the buildings and then when I got home I could tell Mary all about them.  She seems like the kind of girl who’d like to hear about old buildings like that.  I mean, the Packard plant is old, almost 40 years old, and Mary’s house is old, 70 years old or something like that, but like I said, it’s not grand, not like those Europe buildings.  I think Mary would like them. 

I mean, she’s always talking to her friends about how Wesley’s going to finish building the nursery when he gets back, and how she can’t wait to see how the house looks when it’s complete and stuff like that.  So yeah, I think she’d like to see Europe, or at least hear about it, so that’s what I’d do if I was there. 

 

Kevin wanted to see all the stars.  I didn’t want to, but I didn’t say that because, like I said, I respected Kevin.  So I walked with him along Medbury and Maxwell and Lambert and we looked at all the stars.  We weren’t like silent or praying or being all emotional or anything.  We just strolled along and noticed them.  That’s what Kevin said, he just wanted to ‘notice’ them.

 

 

“How’d Jake go?” Kevin asked.

 

 

“Plane went down on D Day.”

“Scary s**t that was,” Kevin said.  He threw in a lot of little comments like that, but he never talked long about them because I think he sensed I didn’t really want to talk about it.  “But his brother’s still fighting?”

“Yeah, in India I think.”

I wouldn’t have normally known where a soldier was fighting, but Mrs. Messer"that’s Jake and Eddie’s mom"she liked to talk a lot.  She wasn’t like Mrs. Knight, though, not all grandma like making you cookies.  She just liked to talk and I tried not to listen, but she always just kept on talking, telling me how proud she was of her sons fighting for their country.

“And that’s Hamilton?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I kicked a can then.  I remember that because I was surprised that little Hamilton kid hadn’t found a metal can which was sitting right in front of his house. 

“And Mrs. Knight’s son is still fighting?”

“Yeah.”

Because it wasn’t my normal time to walk by her house, she wasn’t waiting, and so she didn’t rush out with cookies.  Which I was glad of because it would have been embarrassing for Kevin to see that.  Plus she might try and hug him again.

“And things are good at Packard?” Kevin asked.

“Except for the women,” I said.

“Of course . . . though I’ve heard Mary’s working there.”

“Yep.”

“So . . . it can’t be all that bad.”  Kevin said, but he had this kind of thing in his voice which wasn’t how you’d normally say something like that.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing . . . it just must be nice having an old friend there,” Kevin said.  “. . . and she’s quite nice to look at too, isn’t she?”

“I suppose.”  I said.  Kevin looked at me all funny then, kind of watching me, but I didn’t change my expression at all and he eventually stopped looking at me.

“You know, the P-51’s helped us out more than once while we were over there,” he said.  I didn’t know who he meant by ‘us’ but I didn’t ask.  “So . . . thanks for that Sam.”

“No problem,” I said simply.

“Have you ever seen one fly?”

“Just in newsreels.”

“Oh, well they’re bloody fast things"”

“Bloody?” I repeated because I wasn’t real sure what he meant by it.

“Oh, sorry, it’s something the Brits say.” Kevin said.  “I was good friends with one of them in England.  A man called Flynn.”

I didn’t say anything about this and we passed the intersection of Medbury and Frontenac in silence.

“And who is that there?” Kevin asked, pointing to the blue star which hung in the window of a brick house.

“That’s Mary’s house,” I said.

“Oh, Wesley then,” Kevin said.  “You know I ran into him in France.  I didn’t hardly recognize him though.  He’s one of those who looks so different in uniform"all tough and rugged.”

“Right,” was all I said.

“And what’s with all the bricks on the side of the house?” Kevin asked, pointing to the unfinished nursery. 

I didn’t want to tell him about it, so I was trying to figure out what else to talk about.  Luckily, though, a car passed by then and Kevin’s attention was turned.

His eyes followed the car"it was black with a white star on the side"as it moved through the Frontenac intersection.  At first I didn’t know why he was watching it.  It wasn’t a particularly special car"one’s just like it came to the plant all the time, brining officers and what not"but then I noticed every one else on the street was watching the car too and I realized what it meant.

It moved slowly, like it hadn’t yet made up its mind about which house it would stop in front of.  Because of that, because it was so slow, it made watching it real suspenseful, even for me who didn’t really care where the car stopped.  I mean, I cared, but not especially so because it would stop where it stopped and the person inside the house should have expected it from the beginning.  You have to, don’t you?  You have to expect it or else you’ll fall apart when it happens.

I could see Mrs. Messer through her window.  Her face was between her one blue star and one gold one and as the black car crept passed her house, she breathed a little easier.  Mrs. Hamilton had only the one gold star, but she still seemed scared by the car.  She still watched with baited breath as it passed her house, as if the fear had become too much of a habit to give up, even though Charlie was already dead.  And so she too breathed a little easier as she watched the car slow down and park in front of Mrs. Knight’s house.

I didn’t stay long"like I’ve said, I don’t think it’s good to stay around those houses and hear the crying and what not"but I did hear Mrs. Knight cry.  I saw her come out onto her porch and when she saw the two uniformed men step out of the car, she collapsed on the ground and cried.  That’s when I left.  I was sick of seeing gold stars.

 

I learned Hitler was dead on a Thursday.  I was already pissed off because I wouldn’t be able to cash my check at the bank because of their stupid war bond counting.  And now there was this.

 

 

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t like Hitler.  I didn’t know him personally, but from everything I’ve heard of the man, he seems like a c**t.  What I was upset about was the end of the war.  There’d be all this patriotism and people congratulating heroes and talking about how they lost limbs and what heroes they were and all the soldiers would walk around with their swagger.

 

 

But even that wasn’t really what I was upset about.  I mean . . . it’s like I said, I knew I loved Mary, I knew she loved me, and I knew we’d be together someday.  But now with Hitler dead, those days were shrinking. 

I’d always had hope"I’m optimistic like that.  Take the nursery, I knew that if it wasn’t finished, I still had a chance.  And it still is unfinished.  So I still do.

I mean, realistically speaking, if Hitler’s dead, the army still takes a few weeks to get everything in order, and even then soldiers don’t just leave the army do they.  And I think there’s still war in the Pacific, so maybe they’ll get sent there and that damn Wesley won’t be able to finish the nursery and I’ll have another chance.  But still, I’m sure you can understand why I was nervous.  It’s not that I only had a few days left.  It’s that I was aware someday I’d only have a few days left. 

I spent along time outside that day.  Not like outside, outside, but in the little space between buildings 15 and 16 at the plant.  The flower had bloomed, or the weed, whatever it was.  It had a little purple flower, really small, but nice all the same.  Normally I would have just sat and looked at it and enjoyed a little time away from everyone else, but today I was pacing.

I walked back and forth along the narrow space and I tried to think.  I put my hand on my forehead and stared at the ground because that’s how men always think in the movies, but I couldn’t think of anything.  A lot of times I even forgot what I was thinking about"which, of course, was Mary.  At those times I’d go to the window with a crack in it and I’d watch her polishing the engines. 

She looked happy.  I liked her being happy . . . but I didn’t like why she was happy.  Still I liked that she was happy, which is the important thing, right?

“Can you see into the girl’s bathroom from there or something,” a voice said and I turned and saw Rosie.

“No,” I said.  I’d learned the best way to deal with Rosie was just give short answers and eventually she got bored with you and left you alone.

“Hitler’s dead.”

“I know.”

“You think the men will be coming home soon?”

“Not so soon,” I said.

“Good,” she said.  Like I said, I was trying to ignore her, but this answer seemed a little odd.  I mean, I agreed with her, but I didn’t know why she thought like that.

“Why is that good?”

“Well, when they come home I’ll lose my job, won’t I?  I’ll have to go back to my annoying sisters,” she said.  “And you don’t want me to go yet do you?”

“Do what you want?” I said.  Normally I’d walk away here"it seemed like the proper moment to walk away"but I still hadn’t figured out what to do about Mary.  That’s why I started pacing again.  It was hard to think while Rosie was there, but I figured she might notice I was ignoring her and go away.

But she didn’t go away.  She just stood there. I kept my head down, and I kept pacing, and I kept my hand on forehead so I could think, but I couldn’t.  And then I looked up and saw Rosie standing naked with her overalls around her ankles.

She was chubby, but not as chubby as I’d thought, and it’s worth saying that the chubbiness made her breasts bigger.  Her c**t was hairy, but I didn’t mind.  Truth be told, I’d never seen one before, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but it seemed nice.  And it felt nice"warm and moist and squishy, like the rest of her. 

I took her from behind.  She leaned over some old crates and I grabbed onto the chub of her waist and fucked her.  But I wasn’t f*****g her.  I was making love to Mary. 

I made sure Rosie was bent over near the window, and I watched through the crack, I watched Mary, and I made love to her. 

Sometimes it was hard to keep pretending"Mary would not be so squishy"but when I watched her face, when I saw how happy she was, it was easy to pretend.  It was easy to believe I was making her happy, because I would make her happy, and we’d be happy.  We’d talk about buildings and Europe and nurseries and babies and we’d make love facing each other.  I’d be tender and slow and then fast and I’d kiss her and hold her afterwards and stay inside her if she wanted me to.  I’d run my fingers across her skin and I’d bury my nose in her hair soft and smell the scent and kiss her toes and hold her close and I’d protect her, just liked I protected her from the dog, and she’d hold me close too.

Me and Rosie came at the same time, which was purely accidental.  Then she pulled up her overalls and went back to work.  She didn’t say anything, she didn’t seem to want to, which was fine by me, because then I could just stand by the window and watch Mary smile.

But I was scared.  I was scared because Hitler was dead.

 

Mary quit work and started wearing overalls.  Everyday I’d walk by her on the way to the plant and then on the way back, and everyday the wall grew higher.  Brick by brick she built up the nursery, as if she couldn’t wait to cage herself.  As if she wanted nothing more than for Wesley to come home and be inside her and impregnate her and love her.

 

 

She didn’t know yet that I loved her.  She didn’t know how special our love making would be, how special it was.  And so everyday I was tempted to tell her.

 

 

I was going to say it all.  I was going to profess my love to her she wouldn’t know what to say and she’d stand and think for a moment and then say ‘no . . . no . . . no, I can’t . . .’ but then she’d run at me and hug me and kiss me anyway.  That’s how it would be.  But Hitler was dead, and the wall grew taller, and I didn’t say anything.

 

The sirens sounded occasionally and we were supposed to rush into a house, any house, and pretend planes were dropping bombs.  What kind of morose s**t is that?  It makes no sense, but it’s alright, because some good came out of it.

 

 

“Get yourself inside now, Sam,” Mr. Richardson shouted over the whine of the siren.  In addition to being mailman, he’d taken on the role of block warden"which meant he got to boss everyone around and tell them to get in their houses and put out their lights.

 

 

“No one’s attacking Detroit,” I said back to him and kept walking.

“They could be.”

“Hitler’s dead,” I said.

“You’ll be dead too, Sam, if you don’t get in the f*****g house,” he shouted and he pushed me.  Can you believe that"pushing.  The madness of war, ehh? 

Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood for fighting, and so I decided I’d humor him and I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t noticed it yet, but I was standing in front of Mary’s house.  I’d been trying to avoid it lately, that’s probably why I didn’t notice I was standing in front of it, but then I was standing there and the sirens were going off and I had to go to someone’s house and so I knocked on her door.

“Sam,” she said and she was surprised, but she didn’t say anything else because the sirens were going off and when they went off she was one of those people who was serious about it so she let me into the house and closed the door and the sound of the siren was slightly muffled by the brick of the house.

We didn’t say anything to each other because, like I said, she was serious about this and I didn’t want to be rude by talking during it.  Instead I just looked around, which was nice, but it was s**t too because I had to see Wesley’s things.  His picture and the spatula he used when he grilled food and everything else like that.

The sirens stopped, but we couldn’t go outside yet, not until the second siren.  This lull in the middle would be where bombs were falling, but they didn’t fall, just like I told Mr. Richardson they wouldn’t.

“You quit the plant,” I said.

“Yeah . . . I’m not sure how much help I was doing.”

“Well . . . you"”

“I polished new engines Sam,” she said.  She wasn’t afraid to interrupt like that, which I liked.  It meant she was strong.  I already knew that of course, but you didn’t so I had to tell you this to prove to you that she is.

“Well, you polished them up right nice,” I said and she smiled a little bit.

“I suppose,” she said.  “And you, how’s work for you?”

“Same s**t.”

I don’t think she liked me swearing, but she didn’t say anything about it because she wasn’t a nag like some women.

“That Rosie’s a treat though, isn’t she?”  Mary said.  “She’ll talk your ear off if you’re not careful Sam Born.”

“Well, I’ll be careful then.”

“You do,” she said with a little smile"a good kind of smile"and then there was a long pause.  I was going to say it then, it seemed right to say it then, and I had it all planned out and was going to say it, but she spoke before me.

“I never thought you’d be able to stand a woman who talks that much to tell you the truth.”

“What do you mean by that?”  I asked.

“Well . . . you could have moved to a new job at the plant.  Or if you talked to Mr. Cleever, I’m sure she’d have moved her to another station for you,” Mary said.  “I’m just saying I’m surprised she’s still working with you.”

“Yeah, well . . . I’m pretty good at ignoring her by now.”

“Well, you always were good at ignoring people, though, weren’t you?”

I didn’t know what she meant by that.  I was kind of happy because she was talking like we were old friends again, which she hadn’t done in a while.  But I was scared too because . . . well I ‘m not sure why.  I didn’t know how to respond.  All I could think of then was what I had meant to say, what I should be saying, and again I was determined to say it.  This was the moment, whatever this moment was, it felt right, it was now, it was perfect.

“I"”

“Hitler’s dead,” she said.  “Did you hear?”

“I love you.”

So maybe the moment wasn’t perfect, but I’d said it, and she paused and she looked at me for a few seconds.

“No you don’t,” she said, which wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, but it wasn’t bad either.  She was saying ‘no’ but she meant yes.  She just had to say no a few more times in order to realize she meant yes.  But she just stared at me.  She didn’t say anymore.

I stared at her, she stared at me, and the second siren sounded.

 

I got drunk, so what, I’m sure you’ve gotten drunk before.  And I don’t get drunk often, but I needed to that night.  I think I should have been allowed to get drunk so I don’t need any of your lectures or criticisms.  And don’t think you know me, because you don’t, which is why I’m writing this and you’ll see who I am.  Really, who I really am.  Not what they may say behind my back, not all the stories about me, the whispers which they only half hide from me.  But you’ll see the real me.

 

 

There was a paper in the bar.  Like I said, I don’t read the paper, but I was lonely"yes, I get lonely, that’s who I am, just like you.  And I saw a picture in the paper, a picture of a city in Germany called Dresden.  Or at least it was a city before we bombed it. 

 

 

That’s what my engines do, that’s what the planes do, that’s what those soldiers do.  They destroy the beautiful buildings which Mary so loves, which I so love.  As I admire the beauty, they destroy it.  And people call them heroes.

The war was over"well, almost over"and then they fire bombed the city and destroyed it all.  Why?  Because they’re soldiers who have swaggers and smoke cigars and want to build nurseries and leave their wives to fight some stupid war where they can blow up beautiful cities. 

So I was going to tell Mary that, I was going to show her what they did, what her husband did.  And yes, I was drunk, so what. 

 

Mr. Richardson, the c**k he is, was running another one of those black out nights.  Everyone had to turn off all their lights so that imaginary bombers couldn’t see their houses and blow them up.  Because it was so dark, and because I was drunk, it took me awhile to find Mary’s house.  When I tripped over a pile of bricks, though, I knew I had made it.

 

 

Those f*****g bricks"all they do is build walls and stub toes.  I tried to kick them, but they were already solid in place and I just hurt my foot, so I picked up a loose brick and I threw it at the other bricks.  But it ricocheted off the bricks and broke through the house window and knocked down the blue star.

 

 

See, now you know I didn’t mean to knock it down.  It was an accident.  A complete accident, but Mary wouldn’t believe it.

“What the hell are you doing Sam Born,” she said when she came outside.  She was wearing her night gown and as she rushed toward me the spring breeze exposed her right thigh for a moment.  That’s what made me freeze, that’s why I just stood there saying nothing, not because I was drunk and stupid.  I was drunk, yes, but I knew what I meant to say and so I pulled the paper out of my pocket and threw it at her.

“Is that what he’s fighting for?”  I said.  I wasn’t being rude, I didn’t even sound angry, I was just telling her, showing her what was real.  “Is that why you hang up stars for him?”

“What is this?” she asked, picking up the paper.

“It’s . . . it was called Dresden,” I said and I was going to go on all about it, but she interrupted me.

“You’re drunk, Sam.” She said and she threw the paper aside.  She didn’t even look at it.  Not even a glance.  “Go home.”

“Why, doesn’t he ever drink?” I asked and I’ll admit I probably sounded a little more angry because she wasn’t listening to me and all I wanted was to talk to her.

“Who Sam?” she asked.

“Your . . . your . . .” I said and motioned toward the broken window where the star had been hanging.

“This has nothing to do with"”

“What makes him special?”  I interrupted her this time.  “Because he’s fighting, because he left you here alone?  Is that what makes him better than me?”

“Why are you so afraid"”

“I’m not afraid.”

“No, when you’re drunk you’re full of courage, aren’t you,” she said, all sarcastic like.  Because I was drunk, however, it took me a little while to realize what she meant and so when I didn’t say anything she kept on talking, getting more angry and all. 

“Maybe next time I’ll tell them to hand out Jack Daniels at the draft board.  Then they’ll get you and all the other little boys who are afraid of fighting"”

She was real angry by then and so I had to say something to stop her, to shut her up and calm her down, so I shouted louder than her, saying,  “I stayed here because of you"“

“Ha.” 

“I need you Mary.  I love you and I know . . . I know you love me too.”

“No you don’t,” she said, just like before, and I was angry so I shouted.

“YOU DO!”

It was quiet for a moment and I think I may have heard a neighbor’s door open, but no one said anything and after a few seconds Mary answered me quietly.

“Let me ask you something Sam.  The war started three years ago, Wesley has been gone for two, so why are you doing this now?  Why has it taken you so long to tell me these things?  In fact, it seems like you’ve had twenty years to tell me these things, before Wesley, before any other man, but you never did.  You never even tried.”

“Would it have made a difference if I had?” 

“It would have made you different,” she said, and she was still talking calmly, but it hit me hard.  I don’t know why, I don’t think I even understand what she meant by it, but the way she said it, it hit me hard, and so I didn’t say anything.  “ . . . now go home Sam . . . go get some sleep.”

She started walking into her house.

“Why?” I shouted after her. 

“Why what?”

But I didn’t know why?  Why did she hate me?  Why didn’t she love me?  Why did she want me to go to sleep?  I didn’t understand any of it, and she was going to walk into the house before I could answer so I just said whatever came to my mind.

“Why did you stop caring about me?”

She stopped at the steps of her house and looked back at me.  I was scared again"she looked so serious and strong and . . . said. 

“Because you have his eyes,” she said.  She said it really softly and I almost didn’t hear it, but I did and I think I stopped breathing.  “Because every time I look at you, Sam, I remember my husband.  Every time I see a piece of brick I remember him.  Every time I walk by Nelson’s Fountain shop I remember when he bought me my first drink.  And every time I look out my window I see that f*****g blue star.”

I wanted to say that it was probably good I knocked it down then, but I didn’t because she was really serious about what she was saying and I still couldn’t breathe properly.

“I can’t walk by the park without remembering how he proposed to me.  I can’t sit on  bench without feeling alone.  I can’t look at a newspaper without worrying about him.  I hear the radio and my chest tightens.  I see a black car and I start blinking really fast, and I don’t even know why Sam.  I don’t know why I’m blinking so fast and it scares me.  I’m scared all the time and I’m too young and I can’t stop thinking . . . I hate thinking so much . . . I hate caring so much . . . I hate loving him because it hurts so much . . . you have no idea how bad it hurts.”

“I do,” I said.

“You can’t, Sam . . . and you never will.”

“I saved you Mary,” I said.  It’s all I could think to say, and I said it again.  “I saved you from the dog.”

“You know why they hate you, Sam?” she said.  She was talking calmly again, but sort of strong calm, which scared me again.  “Do you know why they look at you like they do?  It’s not because you’re here while they’re sons and husbands are over there.  It’s not because you rant to Mr. Cleever when you were drafted.  It’s because they know you’ll never be any different than you are right now.

“You cling so desperately to the past.  To the moment where you kissed me on the forehead, to the lunch pail you won me with, to the street which raised you.  And you’re so afraid to do anything new because you’re afraid if you do, you might loose that small amount of comfort you have in this world. 

“And you’ll never change, Sam.  You’ll never leave this street, you’ll never leave your job, and you’ll never fight for anything.  Not country, not love, not even your own principles.  That’s why they look at you like they do.  They pity you, Sam . . . but I don’t . . . I won’t.”

Before I could think of what to say to that she was gone, back into her house.  She closed the door and turned off the light and I stood in the darkness of her front lawn.

The paper with the picture of Dresden was rustling in the spring breeze and I remembered Mary’s thigh"pale as the moon light.

“I’m staying here.” I said to myself, but then I said it again louder.  “I’m staying here Mary.  All night, all day, all week . . . however long it takes I’m going to stay here Mary!” I was shouting now and neighbors could probably hear me, but I didn’t care because I was being brave, because I was fighting more heroically than any person ever had.  I was standing on the lawn of the woman I loved, proclaiming my love, and announcing I would not leave her ever.

I fell asleep on her front steps five minutes later.

 

I’d like to say I dreamt of something while I was there, or that I’d had some sort of epiphany or some idea or some change of heart or something big happen.  It feels like that kind of moment where something should happen, but nothing did.  I just slept, and early the next morning I was awoken by a hand on my shoulder.

 

 

The sun was bright, I remember that, and I couldn’t see much after I opened my eyes, but slowly I started to see.  I saw a man in white gloves.  He had shiny shoes and a pressed suit, or uniform I guess is what you call it.  He had that kind of perfectly parted hair that was all clean looking.  His face was clean shaven as well.  I mean, really, everything about the man was clean.  That’s what I remember at least.  And then I remembered looking passed him and seeing another man who looked just like him.  This second man was standing by one of those black cars with the white star on the side.

 

 

 

 

Like I’ve said, I didn’t think much of hearing people cry, but I couldn’t help myself this time.  I wasn’t trying to be rude or anything, not like other people are when they listen to people crying, it’s just that I wanted to make sure she was alright. 

 

 

I stood on the side of her house, where the nursery was supposed to be, so I don’t think she could see me.  She probably wouldn’t have notice me anyway.  She barely noticed the two men in uniforms.  I mean she noticed them, but only for a second and then she grabbed onto the door frame and she tried not to cry . . . she really tried hard.  She gritted her teeth and breathed really deep, but then she just sort of slid down to the ground and one of the men knelt next to her and put his gloved hand on her shoulder and then she cried.  She really cried.

 

 

 

 

Wesley Reed was killed on May 2nd, 1945 by friendly fire.  Imagine that, going through the whole war and not letting any Germans get you, but then when it’s all over, your friend accidentally shoots you.

 

 

On May 7th the German’s surrendered.

 

 

 

 

They had a party on Medbury on May 8th.  They had music and barbecues and drinks and everyone toasted the victory and toasted Kevin Connelly and everyone else who had fought.

 

 

I had Rosie again.  We hid in the bushes behind Mrs. Knight’s house and I took her from behind.  It was nicer than before, even though I couldn’t see Mary.  I think it was happier too.  The war wasn’t over, but men would start coming home, and I wouldn’t look so out of place.  Maybe someone would even think I was a soldier and salute me in the street or something.

 

 

I remember hearing the people singing songs while I had her, but I can’t remember the lyrics.  I remember Rosie saying she loved me, and I said it to.  I remember how she tightened up when a squirrel jumped out of the bushes and scared her.  I remember wondering if people would still keep the stars up in their windows.  I remember watching the squirrel as he watched us f**k.  I remember making a joke about how we should charge him for the entertainment.  I remember Rosie moaning then, in a kind of moan laugh thing.  But mostly I remember staring across the street at the only dark house on Medbury"a brick house with a gold star hanging in the broken window.

 


© 2015 Charles Konsor



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I thought this story was fantastic. I was pulled in from the first sentence. A very strong opening. The dialogue was fantastic, and you have a wonderful way of showing people's emotions physically, instead of just flatly telling the reader (like Mary blinking her eyes when she sees a black car). Your knowledge of the time period and the anxieties of the people, and the sense of war really shine through and make this a wonderfully professional piece. What I liked best was the narrator's voice, it was so distinctive and made him feel real. He reminded me a bit of Holden Caulfield. The ending was as perfect as the beginning. It does need a bit of editing; there are some serious mechanical errors, like random quotation marks, but the story far outshines it. i only mention it because you might want to submit it for publishing and they won't read it like this, so I'd give it some polishing. Again, I really enjoyed this, and I think you should try to get it published somewhere literary.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

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BBP
I really enjoyed this story. You're style of writing is unique and gritty and right up my alley.

It held a rawness to it and you provided details just enough to put you in the story but not too many to get lost it.

The storytelling was very real, as if you were sitting on a porch with him hearing it first hand.

Well written and again, I really dig the style.

Posted 10 Months Ago


I thought this story was fantastic. I was pulled in from the first sentence. A very strong opening. The dialogue was fantastic, and you have a wonderful way of showing people's emotions physically, instead of just flatly telling the reader (like Mary blinking her eyes when she sees a black car). Your knowledge of the time period and the anxieties of the people, and the sense of war really shine through and make this a wonderfully professional piece. What I liked best was the narrator's voice, it was so distinctive and made him feel real. He reminded me a bit of Holden Caulfield. The ending was as perfect as the beginning. It does need a bit of editing; there are some serious mechanical errors, like random quotation marks, but the story far outshines it. i only mention it because you might want to submit it for publishing and they won't read it like this, so I'd give it some polishing. Again, I really enjoyed this, and I think you should try to get it published somewhere literary.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

test

Posted 5 Years Ago


Hi Charles, I like the vernacular - his way of talking but it sure needs pruning. The lad seems to go on and on and on about different things. I wished he'd get to the point. Also, you have to be less careless as anything you send in this way will go straight to the slush pile. Here are a few things you ought to look into:

some how - somehow is one word

That’s why I didn’t shut up when I walked passed house. (???)

normally"I don’t think he liked me"but... (are these inverted commas meant to be brackets or dashes or what?)

Richardson"or at least him people like him"so I said - there seems to be an extra 'him' here. And again the inverted commas.

anything"I’d found it was best not to say anything"and after - again the inverted commas.

because I was accidentally talking to myself and want to justify it - should be 'and wanting to...

her back was too me as she walked - to not too

There are others. You should look for them and correct them before sending this out. But do some pruning too. Make the story sparkles and flows. Edit out anything that has no place in your tale and which you can do without.

Posted 6 Years Ago


wow this was a great story...I was captured by your strong characters and strong description. It was very long, thought you could have made it into a book breaking it into chapters to give a break along the way but that is the only thing I would have changed. I thought the way you gave the mc narration was a fresh way of doing a story. I have never read anything like this and would like to in the future. It was different then some of the other stuff I have read of yours as well. I was compelled by the story and the world you made and I began to hate those gold stars myself. I am wondering though why did the main character never go to war? Was it a physical thing? Could not figure that out. Anyhow, great write and I will be looking for more from you in the future...Also what was the part about the white feathers? Was this to mark him as a coward? Just wondering.

Tigra

Posted 8 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Well my thing is story. I save all comments on typos and grammar etc. for editors. I loved it. Your characters were well developed and there was a nice flow to this piece that swept me into the story. The dialoguge was real enough and the imagery was nicely done. All and all this was a nice piece.

Posted 10 Years Ago


0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This story was brilliant, honestly. Not a thing I didn't like. Loved it.
You grasped the era of WWII with perfect taste. It all felt perfectly constructed, the factories and female workplace, the patriotism and anxious society. Everything flowed, not a single piece of setting made me feel you had gone astray. I was there, or as close as I could be.
Sam was such a hilarious character who was also very sensitive. His thoughts were so exact, so plain and yet true to his self. I loved how he would bash the stars and townspeople but would become lost at points by that single weed/flower growing between buildings. He felt real, for sure. I thought it was interesting as well that you made him a virgin in the beginning of the story, which was something I hadn't expected at all which gave this kind of boost to the romance of it all.
Rosie made me sad. I feel like everything she did was frowned upon, by everyone and not just Sam. I have no idea why but she depressed the hell out of me. Mary also made me sad, believe it or not. I just couldn't understand Sam's fascination with her, despite the amount of times he claims his love for her. It's not that this was "bad" or you wrote it incorrectly, it's just how I felt, like Sam was controversial everywhere and at all times.

Fantastic!



Posted 10 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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1554 Views
7 Reviews
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Shelved in 2 Libraries
Added on April 1, 2009
Last Updated on January 23, 2015
Tags: wwii, fiction, detroit, sam, historical fiction, packard, world war 2

Author

Charles Konsor
Charles Konsor

Portland, OR



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